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Formula 1

What Norris gained fighting Mercedes on merit

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Lando Norris’s fight with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in the Austrian Grand Prix helped him learn the Mercedes pair’s techniques and provided a psychological boost about racing Formula 1’s lead drivers.

Norris qualified second at the Red Bull Ring, continuing his excellent form in this season and capitalising on McLaren’s inherent strength at the Austrian circuit.

Jul 04 : Austrian Grand Prix review

Hamilton and Bottas struggled in qualifying so were fighting to pass Norris in the first stint, after he had rebuffed Red Bull driver Sergio Perez’s attempted overtake and forced him into the gravel.

Norris kept Hamilton behind him for 15 laps before his defence was broken, prompting Hamilton to comment over his team radio: “Such a great driver, Lando.”

Lando Norris McLaren Lewis Hamilton Mercedes F1

After Hamilton got ahead, Norris kept Bottas behind even longer, only losing out when he had to serve a five-second time penalty in his pitstop for the Perez clash.

The 21-year-old hounded Bottas throughout the second stint and finished third after both passed Hamilton when he started to struggle with a car issue.

Norris passed Hamilton after forcing him to defend into Turn 4, then got a good run exiting the corner and dived inside him into the Turn 6 left-hander.

He said Hamilton not piecing together a perfect race with aero part damage had an impact on their fight, but also that he appreciated the respect the seven-time world champion afforded him with his mid-race radio message.

Lando Norris McLaren Lewis Hamilton Mercedes F1

“The whole of the first stint I think both Mercedes were quicker than me, which was not a surprise, but to hold them off as well as we did was a little bit of a surprise – and for that long into the race,” Norris said.

“But it was the first time I’ve really raced against him [Hamilton] and you get to learn how he drives and how he races, as well as learning from Valtteri and how he approaches things and when there are risks taken and things like that.

“As much as I appreciate the kind words, it’s not like he [Hamilton] was driving perfectly. There were still times he ran wide out of Turn 1 or made a mistake in Turn 3.

“It’s not like they’re not raceable; you kind of get there and when you have the car to perform and do well, you realise you have a chance against them.

Lando Norris McLaren F1

“It’s hard to ever say that until you’re actually racing against them and your car’s there and you’re going head-to-head.

“Normally, they’re way too far ahead of me! So it was cool, it’s a good feeling to race against not just Lewis but Valtteri as well – and Max [Verstappen] and Sergio.

“To be in that pack and say we’re fighting for a podium because our pace is just that good, was a really good feeling.”

Being in that battle on merit marked a step change for Norris in a season of outstanding consistency as the main ‘best of the rest’ candidate behind the Mercedes and Red Bull quartet.

He is the only driver to have scored points at every race, and now has eight top-five finishes from the nine grands prix held so far.

That run means he’s also fourth in the drivers’ championship, ahead of Bottas and only just behind Perez, and is the crucial factor in McLaren being third in the constructors’ standings.

Lando Norris McLaren F1

Norris’s third podium of the season matched his results at Imola and in Monaco, where the fortunes of others elevated him into the top three.

However, Norris joked that ironically “maybe this is the worst one” because he ended the race adamant he should have been second.

“Until there’s a top five, they’re all just as special,” Norris said of his four career podiums.

“They’ve all meant something different, we’ve always achieved them in a different way.

Lando Norris McLaren F1

“Obviously number one is number one and that’s probably the most special one I’m going to have.

“But then you have Monaco, you have Imola, which was more of a fightback, and this one was the first one where we were more just there because of our pace, and we were there on merit and we were fighting third and second for the whole race – even until lap 71.

“It was a lot of fun. I don’t know where this stacks up. They’re all at a similar level.

“I’m just a bit disappointed. It could have been second and not just third – so maybe this is the worst one!”

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